GAO to investigate Mar-a-Lago ‘influence’ over decisions at VA

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  • The Government Accountability Office will look into how the Department of Veterans Affairs developed its strategy for its electronic health record modernization program. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) asked GAO to do so after ProPublica reported potential undue influence by officials with no federal roles or responsibilities. GAO said the audit will take about five months. (Sen. Elizabeth Warren)
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is pushing for changes in the nation’s emergency alert system after last year’s mistaken missile alert in Hawaii. The IG said the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to mandate that contracts for the commercial software state officials use to send the alerts include features that let them preview alerts before they’re sent — or cancel them if a mistake was made. Right now, FEMA only recommends those features as “best practices.” The IG said the agency also doesn’t require software vendors to provide training on how to use their products. Apart from the false alert in Hawaii, the IG pointed to botched alerts in Florida and Georgia that could have been avoided or rectified by its recommendations. (Federal News Network)
  • The IRS failed to flag compromised personally identifiable information, or PII, linked to dozens of external data breaches last year. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for Tax Administration said this put the tax information of 11,000 people at risk. It also found the IRS left out nearly 100 incidents from its list of 730 external data breaches last year, and did not add 11,000 Social Security numbers to its Dynamic Selection List, which gives legitimate taxpayers an opportunity to authenticate tax returns before processing. (Federal News Network)
  • Investments in cybersecurity seem to be paying off for the Postal Service. However its inspector general said the agency needs a long term plan. USPS has mapped out its spending on cybersecurity through fiscal 2022. But the Office of the Inspector General said it has left out the cost of day-to-day operations to sustain ongoing cybersecurity operations. (U.S. Postal Service)
  • Cyber will be on the agenda for the democratic congressman most likely to lead the Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee next year. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) said he wants to check the Trump administration’s proactive defense cyber strategy to make sure it’s not too unilateral in the way it engages with malicious actors. (Federal News Network)
  • A new draft policy from the Office of Management and Budget is out for comment. OMB is making major changes to how agencies measure their efforts to close and/or optimize their data centers. A new draft policy would remove the requirement for agencies to track the closure of non-tiered or small data centers like those located in a closet or a single server. It also would update three metrics, remove two and add a new one for availability. Comments on the draft policy are due by Dec. 26. (DataCenters.CIO.Gov)
  • Federal employees received more guidance on what to do when bad weather makes it too difficult to come into the office. The Office of Personnel Management updated its dismissal and closure procedures ahead of the winter season, with new regulations saying agencies cannot grant weather or safety leave to an employee who is otherwise eligible to telework. This new guidance reflects regulatory changes the agency made earlier this year. (Chief Human Capital Officers Council)
  • Members of the military have until the end of the year to opt into a new retirement benefits system. The new blended retirement system mixes the traditional legacy pension with individual Thrift Savings Plans. If a service member chooses not to enroll in the blended retirement system, they will stay with the current legacy retirement program. (Navy)
  • It took longer for federal retirees to get help from OPM this past year. OPM’s inspector general said the agency took an average of 12 minutes to answer retirees’ phone calls in fiscal 2018, double the time of OPM’s five minute goal, and over 2 minutes longer than 2017’s average. The IG said OPM started using more automated retirement services in July to alleviate wait times and busy signals. (Office of Personnel Management)
  • NASA used an experimental technology to learn about yesterday’s Mars landing. To know whether its latest Mars probe landed safely, NASA used data that came through one of a pair of new satellites. The so-called CubeOne satellites released into space from the same rocket that carried the InSight probe itself. From there one of the briefcase-sized satellites was able to relay data from the probe. NASA techs assembled the satellites from commercial parts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. (NASA)